“So you pulled the old D.I. routine on him?” Armand’s face filled with memory. An outsider could have spaded his way through the recollections, an archeologist down and dirty. It could have been a signpost or a trail marker, the way his lip curved, a half smile moved, a cheek puffed. His head kept nodding appreciation. His jaw was solid, his neck thick, his shoulders wide, giving all the appearance that he was as rugged as a locomotive, as dependable.
“Yeh, but you were telling me about Dorrie. Can Glencie get home at all?” Jack asked about Armand’s only child, married, living just outside Atlanta. He’d never met her, only the idea of her that had been set in his mind...blonde, giggly, field hockey, basketball, scholarship, college, pregnant, Georgia.
“I’m afraid not, Jack. Things aren’t so good there either. Jason called last week. We haven’t heard from them in some time. She’s going to have to have a mastectomy, maybe both sides. Jason says she’s falling away so quick you can’t believe it. Like she’s shrinking. Just plain shrinking.” His eyes fastened on the pair of blind eyes, trying to see the end of the tunnel, the convergence. “Doesn’t think it would do any good for her mom to see her the way she is now. Not me either. Scares the hell out of me. I have all kinds of trouble thinking about things like that. Like it’s a mystery and we’re not supposed to know anything about it.” There was, he realized, no convergence, no meeting of light and sound.
“Jayzuz, Armand, I’m sorry.” Jack’s forearm wiped itself across his brow. “That’s tough. But you’ll get through it.” Jack lifted himself in the bed, put one elbow under him. The move was not effortless. “All of you will. Tons of things coming at all of us every which way to Hell, they always have, and we all get by. One way or another. Every one of us.”
Armand had not yet stopped nodding. He reached for the top packet in the gray canvas mailbag stout as a fire hydrant at his feet.
“We have Two Years before the Mast by…”
Jack cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Had it six times now. Still love it.”
“The Guns of Navarone and H.M.S. Ulysses and South by Java Head, all in one box, by All-star Makear. Funny name, that one.” He proceeded to wipe his glasses.
Jack heard him blow across the glasses, pull a handkerchief from a deep pocket (he thought of a magician doing the kerchief bit, pennants coming out of a secret pocket), blow again. Armand had read the name wrong, or was punning. He didn’t say anything. God! he loved how that man wrote! Adventure at its best. High romance the way it should always be. Navarone back now for the seventh or eighth time, at least. They knew what he liked. Java the first pearl he’d found by him, long before his eyes had gone, now that, too, back for his pleasure. The pillow at his neck, at his shoulders, was a bit softer. Not a crease in it. The taste of the beer came on his lips again and said, "Labatt’s Blue," under his breath. From off some place he inhaled the open crock in the hallway back in Charlestown, across from the Navy Yard. For the briefest moment the entire hallway came into focus, down beside the door the clay crock whose cover when moved sounded like rocks moving over each other, the walls slated with corrugated tin, green paint like every faded John in the world, but he had never seen Dorrie.
Her face continued to be just an oval with a mouth that must have been red at one time. He only thought red, he didn’t see it. You can’t have everything, sounded itself way off, like the echo of a train crawling off the end of the Earth, the caboose light fading to darkness (frigging time chasing itself). A teacher must have said that, the first part, in grade school or high school, some school some place. Perhaps it was a movie with Franchot Tone in it, or Frederick March, black-and-white all the way. They’d be in tight gray pants, vests, dangling their watches on fobs. The face he fished for never came and knew it wouldn’t come. You can’t have everything. Another Pontiac whined by the house. Then tappets in unison, though each cough or click a signature in itself. A Chevy spit its name. Morse Code in another form. Armand Kingsley read off more titles as he took them from the bag, then he loaded the emptied bag with strapped boxes of records already read, as Jack loved to point out...Six novels READ this week and one an epic to boot!
A week to the day, almost to the hour of noon, as if he had waited for the legal hour of tending bar, Armand Kingsley brought another bag load, another Labatt Blue, more bad news. He didn’t tell Jack right off, though, about the bad news. Didn’t want him to get depressed over something he could not help in any way; had enough of his own, this Derrick guy, who hung in like a real trooper. Still Marine to the core. He read titles of the new issues out of Perkins Institute For The Blind: "White Lotus, by John Hershey (Send it back! Put it back in the bag right now!); "Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis..." (What the hell happened to their screening committee? They were right on the mark last week. Must be on vacation now. Maybe a new hire. Well, it can’t hurt anything. Neuter. Pap. Corn flakes. Leave it.); "Billy Budd and Other Tales, by Herman Melville." (Well, whataya know? Finally, a three bagger right down the line, a lefty pumping one so that it would run crazy off the right field wall of Fenway!).